Harissa Substitute: 9 Spices to Make Your Meals Lit!


Do you want to take your roast chicken to a whole new level? Then, we’ve got the perfect spice for you—Harissa paste.

If you love your roasted chicken, you need to have this in your pantry.

Here’s the best part: It’s so versatile that you can use it as a sauce, condiment, and even a marinade!

But wait, there’s a catch: this exotic paste is not widely available in local supermarkets.

So what can you do to enjoy the fiery and garlicky taste of Harissa when you can’t find one?

Don’t fret! There are plenty of harissa substitutes that you can use. Continue reading to find out what these are!


What is Harissa?

image of Harissa substitute

Harissa paste is a type of hot chili pepper paste that originated in Tunisia.

This North African chili paste comprises garlic, pepper, olive oil, and a wide range of spices, including caraway seeds, paprika, red chilies, cumin, and coriander seed.

Because of all the spices it contains, harissa paste will lend slightly smoky and tangy flavors and just the right amount of heat to any dish.    

With its fantastic flavor, you can use Harissa in many ways.

We love using it as a marinade and spice rub for meaty dishes and flavor booster for roasted vegetables, sauces, and even cocktails and yogurts.  

What is a Good Substitute For Harissa?

If you’re ready to make your favorite dishes more flavorful, here are some of the harissa substitutes you can use:

1. Hot Sauce

If you need some heat in your dish, it just makes sense to use hot sauce. After all, it’s the most popular spicy condiment and sauce, so you most probably already have a bottle of it in your pantry.

While both Harissa and hot sauce deliver heat to any dish, please note that the kind of heat they bring varies from one another. Because of this, you should err on the side of caution and add only a tiny amount of hot sauce in place of Harissa, then adjust to taste.

Pro Tip: To achieve the sweet and smoky taste of Harissa, try adding honey, paprika, and garlic to your hot sauce.

When to use it: Hot sauce is an excellent harissa substitute for meat, roasted vegetables, and marinades.

2. Sriracha

When it comes to the flavor profile, you can consider Sriracha one of the best harissa substitutes.

But Can I use Sriracha instead of Harissa?

Same with Harissa, Sriracha gives your dish a spicy punch that wouldn’t burn your tongue as other condiments do. Additionally, Sriracha also has a garlicky flavor that most people love about Harissa.

But here’s the issue: their textures are vastly different. For example, Harissa comes in a chunky paste form, while SSriracha has a smooth sauce texture.

Pro Tip: To improve its flavors and texture, try adding coriander, caraway seeds, and cumin to sriracha.

When to use it: You can use this in just about all the many dishes that you use Harissa for.

3. Sambal Oelek

Unlike other chili pastes that offer a tart flavor (sorry, Gochujang) or extra heat, Harissa provides a clean and straightforward flavor with subtle layers. This is also what you can get from Sambal Oelek.

Sambal Oelek is probably one of the simphlest chili pastes that you can find.

It’s only made up of a few ingredients—dried chilies, water, salt, and a bit of vinegar.

This also comes in paste form. However, its consistency is a lot thinner than that of Harissa.

Pro Tip: If you want to make it taste more like Harissa, add caraway seeds, coriander, and cumin to Sambal Oelek.

When to use it: It’s suitable for the recipes that call for Harissa.

4. Tandoori Masala

This native Indian spice blend has almost the same ingredients in Harissa—coriander, red pepper, and garlic, making it one of the best harissa substitutes.

That’s not all. It also gives the dish a vibrant red color, just like Harissa.

But we’ve got some bad news, though. First, this is also an exotic spice blend, so it’s also challenging to acquire.

There’s a higher chance that you can find Harissa than Tandoori masala in your local grocery store.

When to use it: Since it has the same flavor profile and bright red color, you can use it in any recipe that requires Harissa.

5. Gochujang

From India, let’s now move to Korea! Gochujang is a Korean red chili paste commonly used in dishes like bibimbap and kimchi.

It’s a good harissa substitute because of its spicy and sweet taste. Also, it has a chunky texture that Harissa has.

Heads up, there’s one flavor issue. Due to the starch that comes from fermented rice, gochujang also gives off a tart flavor. Its sweet taste is also different from that of Harissa.

When to use it: Gochujang can be used as a good harissa substitute in dips, vegetables, and chicken dishes.

6. Red Pepper Flakes

If you didn’t find any of these spicy pastes, the next best option would be red pepper flakes.

However, please note that the flavor of red pepper flakes is not as complex as Harissa. Therefore, you may not be able to get tangy or smoky flavors from it. With that said, you should use this only when you’re looking to add playful heat to your dish.

Additionally, their forms are worlds apart. Due to their nature, red pepper flakes will add crunch to your dish. If this is not something you want, we recommend grinding the flakes to create a soft powder.

For every 1 teaspoon of Harissa that the recipe calls for, use only around ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes.

Pro Tip: To achieve the flavor of Harissa, try mixing the soft powder or the flakes with honey, salt, and garlic.

When to use it: red pepper flakes would work best for meats, marinades, dips, and yogurt.

7.     Chili Powder

Another widely available spice that you can use in place of harissa powder is chili powder, as it’s usually made with cumin and dried chilies—two ingredients that you can also find in Harissa.

You should note that chili powder won’t be able to give the same level of heat that you get from Harissa.

Use one teaspoon of chili powder for every teaspoon of harissa powder the recipe calls for, then adjust accordingly.

Pro Tip: Kick up chili powder’s heat a notch by mixing it with either cayenne powder r red pepper flakes.

When to use it: Use it in recipes that require slightly moderate heat.

8.     Berbere Spice

Since it has the exact origins and tang as Harissa, Berbere spice must be included in our list.

Aside from chili peppers, other ingredients that make up the Berbere spice blend include fenugreek, garlic, nigella, ginger, and basil.

Unfortunately, this spice may be a lot harder to find than Harissa.

When to use it: Go for this alternative when cooking Ethiopian dishes.

9.     DIY Harissa

While commercial harissa paste is the most convenient option, you can always make your own at home. (*)

To make homemade Harissa, you’ll need dry red chilies, roasted red pepper, tomato paste, fresh garlic cloves, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, toasted and ground caraway seeds, hot paprika, and cayenne pepper.

Pro Tip: You can simply mix chopped fresh red chilies with a pinch of caraway seeds or coriander and olive oil for a quick fix. If you want a stronger kick, you can leave the seeds behind.

Wrapping It Up

Harissa paste and powder may not be as accessible as you want them to be.

Still, you can always replicate its flavors simply by using any of the harissa substitutes we’ve shared with you. With this list, substituting Harissa is made easy!

Just make sure to follow all of our hacks so you can make the most out of the spices listed in this article. Enjoy your fantastic dishes!

image of Harissa Substitute: 9 Spices to Make Your Meals Lit!

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top